Fast Food – Take it with a (very big) Grain of Salt

A new study shows that the amount of sodium added to fast food in the United States is significantly higher than the same fast food sold in other countries. For example, as reported in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, Chicken McNuggets sold in the United States contained 1.5 grams of sodium but the same meal in the United Kingdom had only 0.6 grams and in Australia 1.1 grams.

High sodium intake has been linked to high blood pressure, which can cause a stroke, as well as other health problems. The current recommended allowance in the U.S. is 2,300 mg a day or 1,500 mg for people age 51 or older, so that means one order of McNuggets for a 60 year old constitutes the entire day’s recommended allowance. Add some fries to that and you could really be courting trouble.

Why is so much salt added in the first place? Salt can enhance the artificial flavoring used to make animal byproducts taste like the meat they are supposed to represent. In reality, a chicken nugget is really textured scraps of leftovers disguised to pass as chicken breast. To pull off the disguise, flavoring must be added and enhanced – with salt. Another reason salt is added is to “preserve” food. Add enough salt and you prevent bacteria from growing.

But why do we, i.e. U.S. citizens, get fed more salt? Could it be that we are already so over-salted that it takes even more salt for our palets to recognize the flavor? A 1983 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that our desire for the amount of salt we consume is influenced at an early age based on what our parents feed us. Thus parents feeding toddlers foods that are high in sodium, the typical fast food meals, are setting them up for a life of cravings.

The reality is that few “fast food: restaurants aren’t worth their salt when it comes to concerns about consumer health. Avoiding fast food joints and reading labels on the products you buy can go a long way to keeping your blood pressure under control and reducing the amount of salt your kids are exposed to could go a long way in keeping them healthy.


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